Posted on March 2, 2022

Sperm Banks Struggle to Recruit Black Donors and Other Donors of Color

Amy Dockser Marcus, Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2022

A few years after her marriage broke up, Aisha Jenkins started thinking about having a baby on her own. She used a leading sperm bank whose catalog contained hundreds of potential donors from which to choose. But when Ms. Jenkins, who is Black, narrowed the search down to Black donors, only six remained.


When she realized how difficult it is to find a Black sperm donor, Ms. Jenkins said she expanded her search, adding, “I knew there were other colors in the spectrum that would give me a brown child.” She now has two daughters, ages 7 and 2 1/2, using different donors—one with Egyptian ancestry, the other with Indian ancestry.


During one week in February, four out of the 242 available sperm donors at California Cryobank, based in Los Angeles, said they were Black or African-American. One out of 126 donors identified himself as African-American at Seattle Sperm Bank, based in Seattle. Eighteen of 360 donors in the catalog of Fairfax Cryobank, based in Fairfax, Va., identified as Black.

Ms. Jenkins said that when she and Hera McLeod, a biracial Black woman, launched their podcast, Mocha Single Mothers by Choice, last year, they reached out to sperm banks to ask: Where are all the Black sperm donors?

“Choosing outside your race is potentially more complicated when you don’t have a partner of that other race to help navigate the world,” said Ms. McLeod, 41, a manager at a tech company also living in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “I think that’s why so many of us are looking for donors who match what we look like.” {snip}

Alyse Mencias, a clinic relations manager at Seattle Sperm Bank, said sperm banks know they need to recruit more Black and other donors of color, especially as families become more diverse. {snip}

Ms. Mencias, who discussed the Black sperm donor shortage on the Mocha Single Mothers by Choice podcast in April last year, said only one in every 1,000 applicants—of all races and ethnicities—makes it through the screening process, which includes genetic and infectious-disease testing, a criminal-background check and a semen analysis to ensure sperm quality. {snip}

Fertility clinics and doctors, sperm banks and other industry experts have struggled to determine why the shortage is especially acute among Black donors and how to address it. At the Seattle Sperm Bank, the wait time for customers looking for a sperm donor who is Black, indigenous or a person of color is on average five times longer than for white donors {snip}


At California Cryobank, about 10% of sperm-donor applicants said they are Black or African-American, but the catalog is “perpetually underrepresented” by these men, according to Jaime Shamonki, chief medical officer at the sperm bank {snip}


Ms. Jenkins said she carefully studied the features of potential donors’ childhood photos, including men who didn’t identify as Black. “I looked for men with deep olive tones, caramel complexion and dark brown eyes,” Ms. Jenkins said. {snip}

“The world is going to see them as Black girls,” Ms. Jenkins said. “In my house, we are the standard.”